Sunday, 18 February 2018

Celebrating Swan River's Billy Beal

William S.A. Beal, self portrait, ca. 1918

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press celebrates the life of one of rural Manitoba's first black settlers, William "Billy" Beal, and the community that has worked hard to ensure that his memory is kept alive.

Beal, a steam engineer by trade, came from Minnesota and settled in the Big Woody district, near Swan River, in 1906. He spent his life helping to build his community by creating its first library, being a founding member of its school and literary society, and even providing assistance to local doctors in times of epidemic.

His most lasting legacy, though, are his photographs.

Through the 19-teens and 1920s, Beal photographed the people of the region and dozens of these images survive to this day.

More black history on West End Dumplings...

Percy Haynes of Haynes' Chicken Shack
Jesse Owens races at Osborne Stadium
Duke Ellington, Omar Williams and their 1946 Banning St. jam
Behind the Photo: Railway Porters' Band of Winnipeg

... and in my Free Press Columns
 Recipe for success (more detailed article on the Haynes')
The fastest man on earth (more detailed article about Jesse Owens)
Every inch a gentleman (more on Billy Beal of Swan River)

Friday, 16 February 2018

Now in the Winnipeg Real Estate News!


Starting today, I will be appearing in the Winnipeg Real Estate News! 

Bruce Cherney, the long-time editor and author of its “Heritage Highlights” column, is retiring. The Winnipeg Real Estate Board didn’t want to lose that heritage connection, so they approached me to help out. 

My work will be different than what Bruce did or what I currently do for the Free Press. Instead of a long-form stories, I will choose three buildings or other landmarks within one of that edition’s feature neighbourhoods and write a short history on each of them. 

It starts this week with some familiar places in Old St. Vital

As time goes on, and it gets warm enough to stroll around with a camera, I will get more off the beaten track.  

Also, in this edition check out Todd Lewys’ story about St. Boniface architecture on page one and the last of Bruce Cherney’s 6 piece series about the history of Winnipeg’s city halls on page 4.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Remembering Donnelly Rhodes

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press is about actor Donnelly Rhodes, who died earlier this month in B.C..

If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, his face should, as he was a fixture on television screens on both sides of the border for nearly sixty years. His credits include The Young and the Restless, Soap, Danger Bay and DaVinci's inquest and films such as Gunfight in Abilene and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Rhodes' acting roots, however, were firmly embedded in Manitoba’s theatre scene. The story of his rise to fame also helps tell the story of Winnipeg's theatre scene in the 1960s.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Winnipeg's Ice Queen, Mary Rose Thacker

My column in today's Winnipeg Free Press is about Winnipeg's Mary Rose Thacker.

Thacker began skating at the age of three and was the star member of the Winnipeg Winter Club figure skating club. By the late 1930s, she was winning national and North American figure skating championships.

Sadly, as with many athletes of her generation, World War II dashed her chances of international glory.

Friday, 5 January 2018

A sad day for Brandon's Strand Theatre

© 2017, Christian Cassidy
Top: The Strand in 2015. Bottom: Merx.com

It's a sad day for Brandon's 101-year-old Strand Theatre as the public tender for its demolition closes at today 2:00 p.m..

One year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a column in the Winnipeg Free Press about the history of the Strand, which had sat vacant since 2005, and how it received a new lease of life when it was sold to Brandon University by Landmark Cinemas for $1.

It didn't take long for the news to sour as the engineers hired by BU determined that the building was not salvageable. From the Brandon Sun of Feb 14, 2017: "Probably in the last six to eight months, you can see we’ve lost the integrity of our roof membrane," said Michael Maendel, engineer with Burns Maendel Consulting Engineers. "When water comes into a building, you get more freeze/thaw cycles and more damage. This has been one of the challenges." 

If there is a silver lining to the story, it is that the Strand project got BU thinking about creating a downtown campus. They are currently working to assemble a seven-lot parcel of land for such a purpose. 

Sadly, the Strand will not be part of that expansion.

You can read a clipping of that January 2017 column by clicking the above image. 

For some other Brandon-related posts I have written over the years, check out this list. Some of the entries are years old and have developed formatting and broken hyperlink issues which I hope to clean up soon.

- Happy 135th birthday, Brandon: 1934 film footage
- Brandon's inter-city bus terminal history
- Brandon's 8th Street bridge to be demolished
- Brandon's street railway system, 1913-1932 and related Winnipeg Free Press column
- Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Brandon (1916) and related Winnipeg Free Press column
- Brandon's retro Kentucky Fried Chicken demolished
- Mental Health Industries of Brandon (1963 - 1971)
- Brandon's Syndicate Block Fire and more detailed Winnipeg Free Press column
- Brandon's fallen firefighter finally remembered
- Brandon's CPR Station
- The Brandon Asylum site in photos
- The 1919 Stanley Cup and the death of Brandon's Joe Hall
- A history of Brandon's waterworks. Part 1. Part 2.
- Brandon's first female alderman
- John A Macdonald dies in Brandon
Telephony in Brandon
Sgt. William White - Brandon's first WWI casualty
- Manitoba's WWI fallen: C. A. Matheson of Brandon
- The Aagaard Brothers and Aagaard Cafe

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My most-read blog posts and Free Press columns of 2017

Thanks to everyone who visited my blogs in 2017. With 79,000 page views for my "big three" it was a busy year. A special thanks to those who donated towards my new computer, a lovely new ThinkPad, which has made my work even easier.

At this time of year I like to look back and see what got the most attention over the past twelve months and share the list .... 

Brandon Sun, June 29, 1933

West End Dumplings: Most-read posts written in 2017

I should really leave town. The majority of my top ten were about places outside of Winnipeg. That's fine by me as I enjoy exploring the history of other communities.

1. Brandon's Inter-city Bus Terminal History In May, Brandon's bus terminal went up for sale. As with Winnipeg, Greyhound was looking for a much smaller space as the province's inter-city bus service dwindles away.

2. Happy 135th birthday, Brandon, Manitoba: 1934 film footage! This year was Brandon's 135th birthday. I posted some film footage I found at the Manitoba Archives and made an index of Brandon-related posts from past years. I still have about a half dozen Brandon posts in my drafts folder that I should really finish up.

3. Brandon's Strand Theatre's 100th Birthday Gift  In January, Brandon's long-vacant Strand Theatre got a lifeline when Brandon University announced that it was purchasing the building. This post was a teaser for a Free Press column I wrote about the history of the place.

4. Injecting a bit of history into a community pollution debate Over the summer a pollution debate came to a head in St. Boniface. The alleged culprit was a modern day car shredder but I found that over the century some of the worst polluting industries once called the neighbourhood home.

5. Lives lived at 17 Harvard Avenue  In December, some residents of Crescentwood were disappointed when 17 Harvard Avenue was demolished. Before it is forgotten, I thought I would look back at the lives lived there.

6. Brandon's 8th Street Bridge to be Demolished In March, the City of Brandon announced that the ca. 1968 8th Street bridge would finally be replaced. I looked back at the history of crossings teh tracks in the Wheat City.

7. B.C. Mills' kit Bank of Commerce in Elkhorn is closing When CIBC announced that it was vacating its branch in Elkhorn, MB, not only did it leave the community without a financial institution, it also meant that one of the last "Prairie Style" Bank of Commerce kit buildings still used as a bank would close.

8. Rivers, Manitoba B.C. Mills prefab Bank of Commerce building for sale Similar to number 7, the Bank of Commerce kit building in Rivers, MB, long since converted to a dwelling, was up for sale. I looked back at the history of the building.

9. A belated bye-bye to Blue Ribbon Tea (1897 - 2015) Without fanfare, a once mighty local brand went by the wayside in 2015.

10. A look back at Winnipeg's Mitchell Fabrics This year saw the closure of a Winnipeg institution. Mitchell Fabrics was started by Mednel Mitchell almost 70 years ago.

Sures House, 1021 Wellington Crescent (source)

West End Dumplings: Most-read posts of 2017 - Overall

I've been blogging for a decade so it is no surprise that a majority of the year's most-read posts were actually written in previous years. This year, just one post from 2017 made the top ten.

Some of the posts are a little embarrassing to look back on as a number of the research tools available to me now were not back then, so some posts are quite thin on detail. From time to time I do try to reach back and clean up past posts, especially broken hyperlinks.

1. Brandon's Inter-city Bus Terminal History In May, Brandon's bus terminal went up for sale. As with Winnipeg, Greyhound was looking for a much smaller space as the province's inter-city bus service dwindles away.

2. Lives lived at 1021 Wellington Crescent In 2014, this house was destroyed by fire. I took a look back at those who called it home.

3. Great Winnipeg Stadium Moments: Construction (1953) The old Winnipeg Stadium seemed to be on peoples minds this year. This was the first in a multi-part series from 2011.

4. Safeway in Winnipeg Part 2 - The Boom Years A series written in 2010, which needs some serious updating, has always been a popular read.

5. Manitoba's Worst Train Disasters: Brandon (1916) Part of series, this crash in the heart of Brandon was likely Manitoba's, deadliest train crash until the Dugald Train Disaster of the 1940s.

6. Remember those car window frost shields ?! A look back at those pesky car window frost shields.

7. Budweiser's Clydesdales and their Winnipeg origins One of my favourites. How Pat Shea's prize winning horses ended up across the border to become advertising icons.

8. A history of the Arlington Street Bridge - Part 1 Destined for replacement by 2020, here's a look back at the history of Winnipeg's Arlington Bridge.

9. "Put Your Trash Into Orbit" Seems people were looking back

10. Winnipeg's 5 Deadliest Fires This was the cover post for a series of Winnipeg's deadliest fires.

St. James Police Dep't mug shot (source)

This Was Manitoba: Most-Read Posts of 2017

In the beginning, there was This Was Winnipeg. Meant to be a day-by-day look at historic events, every once in a while I branched out and wrote a more detailed blog post. Eventually, I started a new blog called West End Dumplings to host my long-form posts.

These are all from 2008 (!) but remain popular, especially the Flying Bandit which is my most-read blog post of all time. I also receive the most comments about it. As I say every year: why someone hasn't made a feature movie about him, I don't know.

1. Kenneth Leishman - The Flying Bandit
2. Eaton's Catalogue Houses
3. Len Fairchuk, The Western Hour and the Rex Theatre 
4. The Rex and Starland Theatres and the rest of the 600 block of Main Street
5. Genser's Furniture of Winnipeg


 Winnipeg Downtown Places: Most-Read Posts of 2017

1. 335 Donald Street - Former Masonic Temple
2. 272 Main Street - Scott Block
3. 164 Langside Street - Hill Bros. Grocery
4. 233 Kennedy Street - Medical Arts Building
5. 234 Portage Avenue - The White House

Winnipeg Free Press: Most Read Columns in 2017

1. Sears' lasting Impact A look back at the retailer's 69-year history in Winnipeg.

2. When war came to Winnipeg The Nazi invasion of Winnipeg, also known as "If Day", made international headlines.

3. Closeted councillor a victim of the times The rise and fall of Charles Spence, a gay city councillor outed after police surveillance in 1962.

4. Driven to great heights  The story behind Winnipeg's very first multi-storey parkades, most of which are still in use today.

5. Taking a Strand Brandon's Strand Theatre gets a lifeline for its 100th birthday.

6. Double disaster in Carman In 1952, six people were killed in a combination air accident and radio tower collapse near Carman, Manitoba.

7. The woman behind the wheel Mary Staub became the city's first female transit driver in 1975.

8. Going off the rails The story of Brandon's streetcar system which lasted less than 20 years.

9. Work of Art Thirty years ago, ARTSPACE opened in an historic building in the Exchange District and is still going strong.

10. Etched in stone The story behind Manitoba's own Tyndall stone, which graces buildings across the country and around the world.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Merry Christmas !

Christmas Eve on Portage, 1925 and 1935. Click for image information.

Over the years, I've written a number of Christmas-related posts for West End Dumplings. Check out the links below.

Merry Christmas, or whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year, to all of my readers !

This was the first year that downtown merchants got together as a group to set up Christmas lights in the area.

From the 1890s to 1940, how merchants advertized their Christmas wares.

In Christmas 1948, 10 year-old Douglass Hanson saved lives.

The Tribune's home ec editor's tips for a normal Christmas despite rationing and food shortages. 

See story number 7 for a brief bio of Christopher Kendall, the Santa Claus of Portage and Main. 

A brief collection of Christmas fiction from Manitoba authors.